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article imageOfficial 2009 Hurricane Season forecast calls for an average ride

By Nikki Weingartner     May 29, 2009 in Environment
It is official, with the NOAA reducing December's prediction of probability for having an above-average hurricane season to only 25 per cent. May's official forecast is showing an average season but with a small bit of uncertainty.
Every year in May, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) releases the official forecast for the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season. Although several unofficial predictions are made prior to the May forecast, the preliminary report stands as the guide for coastal inhabitants as a means to prepare for the upcoming season.
With June 1 serving as the official start date in the season, some 35 million residents along the coastal United States take these predictions seriously and use the numbers to help them understand what to expect from the potentially dangerous weather.
For the 2009 season, the NOAA calls for a .5 probability of having a relatively normal season, looking at a 70 per cent chance of between 9 and 14 named storms, 4 to 7 of which may become hurricanes. Of those named storms, it is predicted that one 1 to 3 will actually be categorized as a major hurricane, which is a Category 3 or higher. However, there are some issues with global weather patterns that could skew the 2009 outlook:
There is a 25% chance of an above-normal season, which reflects the ongoing high-activity era, the possibility that El Niño will not develop and impact the season, and the possibility that eastern Atlantic SSTs will return to normal. This 25% chance of an above-normal season is well below last years’ (65%) forecast.
The NOAA's forecast does not include strike zones for the storms, nor does it "imply" regional activity. This means that the statistical probability of a hurricane can occur anywhere within the Atlantic region, including the North Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.
In 2008, the NOAA's May forecast called for 12 to 16 named storms, 6 to 9 of which would become hurricanes and 2 to 5 in the major category. In August, the peak season annual update to the forecast increased the total number of storms and hurricanes by a few, adding one additional hurricane to the mix. However, the summary of the 2008 season fell within both predictions, having 16 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes (see pdf version of 2008 summary here).
Compared to the 2009 predictions, the possibility of an above-average season was significantly greater in 2008.
Back in 2005, the year that Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury on the coastal town of New Orleans, the probability of having an above-average hurricane season was set at 70 percent, which was upgraded to 90 per cent in August. The official count for 2005 set historical records, with 27 named storms and 15 hurricanes. An average season is 11 tropical Storms, 6 hurricanes, 2 reaching a Cat 3 or higher.
As soon as a storm reaches sustained winds of at least 39 mph, it acquires the level of Tropical Storm and is given a name. Once that storm reaches 79 mph, it is classified as a Category 1 hurricane. Only once it reaches 111 mph is it considered a "Major Hurricane." For 2009, the first name on the list will be Ana.
Back in December of 2008, the NOAA was initially predicting an above-average season, unofficially forecasting up to 16 named storms and 5 major hurricanes. This official May forecast is showing to be a little less than originally believed, with the probability for an above-average season dropping from 65 per cent in December to 25 per cent in May.
As with any season, the numbers are simply guidelines and should not be dismissed or taken lightly. Even a storm that is not officially in the major category can have devastating effects in terms of flooding. Hurricane Ike was said to have "made landfall on Galveston Island on September 13 as a strong Category 2 hurricane, but its large size brought storm surge of over 12 feet (3.7 m) from Galveston Island eastward into southern Louisiana." It was still categorized as a "major" hurricane despite the official wind speeds and brought devastation to many along the Texas coast. Being fully prepared to evacuate, with a hurricane preparedness plan in hand, serves as the best prevention plan there is.
Lets see what the winds stir up beginning in two days.
The Atlantic Hurricane season goes from June 1 to November 30.
More about Hurricane season, 2009, Official
 
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